A Constant Willful Reductionism
August 14, 2020 6:18 AM   Subscribe

isosteph writes about tech brain as “an addiction to easy answers combined with a wholesale cultural resistance to any kind of complexity.”
posted by adrianhon (76 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Metafilter: I’m not like those other tech CEOs
posted by Wood at 6:26 AM on August 14


metafilter i’d mute myself if i could
posted by glonous keming at 6:32 AM on August 14


trying to disambiguate "tech brain" from "online brain" here and failing. Is the real "tech brain" is thinking this problem is limited to tech?
posted by phooky at 6:48 AM on August 14 [6 favorites]


i think maybe "human brain" is the more accurate slogan
posted by dudemanlives at 6:57 AM on August 14 [13 favorites]


Sounds like engineers disease with funding.
posted by Brian B. at 7:05 AM on August 14 [17 favorites]


Yeah I feel like this is "most-people brain", but tech is having its moment and is particularly visible right now.

My favourite examples are when some self-described genius (whether person or organization) claims to have solved or be solving some difficult problem, but on closer inspection they've just re-scoped the problem to get away from all the tricky bits.

See: self driving cars. "Fully autonomous" to "maybe in some particular suburbs" to "on special roads" to "can we ban pedestrians totally?". Cool, you've invented a less efficient train, with extra failure cases.

Or every single company that picks a high-margin aspect of an existing market behemoth's product or service, and does it better and cheaper. Great! But now they've taken on so much VC money that they have to grow to the size of the market behemoth to have any chance of a payoff, and then they discover that you can't maintain high margins across the entire market sector needed. Whoops!

Also, that hilarious subscription-only juicer a few years back. Will solve all your juicing needs, as long as the juicing is mostly done ahead of time and we just ship you a packet.
posted by Jobst at 7:26 AM on August 14 [49 favorites]


Timeless tech brain example: blame academia for being out of touch with industry "needs". Of course, not that academia is radically different; it just trades money for time.
posted by polymodus at 7:31 AM on August 14


It's "bro brain".
posted by Cardinal Fang at 7:33 AM on August 14 [9 favorites]


Jobst: I continue to be amazed at how many techbros re-invent busses with extra steps.
posted by SansPoint at 7:48 AM on August 14 [16 favorites]


The conceit that this is because of "the brain" is also a problem, excusing our vapid and greedy culture with hand-waving in the direction of biological determinism.
posted by thelonius at 7:57 AM on August 14 [12 favorites]


Is the real "tech brain" is thinking this problem is limited to tech?

from the article:

all of this probably happens in every field to some degree, but it’s especially sad when technology holds so many fascinating and difficult questions, and so much potential to shape and undergird the entire world.
posted by philip-random at 8:00 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


I think it’s pretty clear by now that Twitter has not been a net good for society.
posted by bigbigdog at 8:04 AM on August 14 [21 favorites]


People are taking the term "tech brain" too literally. It's more like "a way of thinking popularised by rich and powerful people (usually men) in the tech industry, but not limited to it" – but that's not quite as snappy.
posted by adrianhon at 8:07 AM on August 14 [27 favorites]


yes, it does seem as much about everything (humans and the world in general) as it is about the tech world. But that's the world this guy's in, the networks he's navigating. I think what I like best about it is, and this is a universal, is how he focuses on reductionism as a big part of the the problem. Sometimes reductive thinking (and related action) is exactly what the situation requires. But right now, right here, this covid infested, Trump infected, apocalyptically challenging moment is not remotely that kind of situation.
posted by philip-random at 8:12 AM on August 14


This is a direct result of startup culture, which is itself a form of youth worship: the only things worth building / doing are shiny and new and completely free from obstacles. If it is not easy, it is not worth doing.

The real world is complicated and messy and you have to take the past into account, aka baggage. The crop of engineers I work with right now are, to a large degree, averse to problems that are complicated in nature, even if that complication is a necessary byproduct of the end goal. Risk-aversion is extremely high. We actually have started adding an anxiety worksheet to the planning process which basically ranks every aspect on "how horribly wrong do you think this is going to go?"

I got into software because I enjoy tackling large and complicated problems. I suppose if your primary driver is making money, then tackling complicated problems is something to avoid if possible because it, like slows you down.

Sigh.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:24 AM on August 14 [11 favorites]


But that's the world this guy's in, the networks he's navigating. I think what I like best about it is, and this is a universal, is how he focuses on reductionism as a big part of the the problem.

Is the real tech brain assuming that someone who writes about tech is a he?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:30 AM on August 14 [21 favorites]


Two interesting things going on in this essay. One is the old conflict between sales optimists and engineer pessimists. This part, though, is the core of it for me:
more and more discussions on tech twitter and forums like hacker news these days are just unbelievably simple cesspools of ahistoricism and false binaries, propped up by a truly insane level of credulity from people watching who i guess think bad logic is okay if the guy posting the bad logic made a few million dollars once or something. people who in theory spend all day on moving systems and edge cases suddenly forget that immigrants can be noncitizens, that authoritarians take many forms, that saying something is bad doesn’t imply all other things are good, that rejecting hypocrisy doesn’t somehow entail unilateral support of any one side.
There seems to be a lot of "logical" and "rational" thinking these days which boils down to this - context-free arguments in favour of white supremacy (or that weird libertarian authoritarianism which is in vogue and somehow seems to always end up not far away from white supremacy).

The "2+2=5" discussion recently centered around James Lindsay (former mathematician turned culture-wars pundit) and Kareem Carr (former mathematician turned biostatistician) was a good example of this. On the one side LOGIC and FACTS and no contextual reasoning whatsoever; on the other, "when somebody tells me "2+2=5", I WILL ALWAYS ask them for more details".

A lot of "tech brain" people on the sites she mentions - tech twitter and hacker news - really like the James Lindsay approach. They "don't see colour", so nothing needs to be done about racism. The "biological facts" are that men are men and women are women (which is the underlying argument which seems to have started the 2+2=5 argument in the first place), so we don't need to respect transgender rights. Any sort of critical race theory or feminism is being done by people trying to destroy Western Civilization with subtle context and complexity, so all of their arguments can be swept away with simple Facts and Logic.

That's where I've been seeing one half of the "tech brain" that she's talking about. I'm not sure whether the two halves - context-free arguments, and optimistic money-making - are related in the way that she's seeing, but I wouldn't be completely surprised if they were.
posted by clawsoon at 8:32 AM on August 14 [17 favorites]



Is the real tech brain assuming that someone who writes about tech is a he?

you got me. I was looking at the twitter image of Patrick Collision ("pessimists sound smart, optimists make money") when I wrote that comment.

all apologies.
posted by philip-random at 8:33 AM on August 14 [5 favorites]


I wish I could remember where I read it, but there was some article/blog a year or two back (probably linked to from here) about the "central dogma (or fallacy?) of tech". Basically how every startup has to be presented as being capable of changing the world (transformative! disrupting!), or at least their little segment of it. But most of it boils down to selling more crap. Or extracting more money from people for the same old crap. Or grabbing people's data to be sold, so someone else can sell them more crap. Which leads to ridiculously overwrought mission statements being issued by companies that make drink bottles with an internet connection.

And once they've come around to the idea that their drink bottles are saving the world, nuances like "won't these batteries (made by Uighur slaves) just end up in a river somewhere when we shut down the servers?" become a direct attack on the central belief that all tech is virtuous. So the nuance is made to go away, or ignored. And yeah, dealing with cognitive dissonance is hard for everyone. But not everyone swings around money and influence quite as hard as the tech crowd these days.
posted by Jobst at 8:39 AM on August 14 [21 favorites]


Someone who has Twitter should tell isosteph that she might enjoy Metafilter more than Hacker News.
posted by clawsoon at 8:39 AM on August 14 [9 favorites]


philip-random- I made the same assumption, and I have no excuse other than apparently I default to thinking most people in tech are white and male.

And I say this as a woman who’s worked in tech for years, with other women!

I do believe I’m gonna have to work in that. Tech brain indeed.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:43 AM on August 14 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure whether the two halves - context-free arguments, and optimistic money-making - are related in the way that she's seeing, but I wouldn't be completely surprised if they were.

I wonder if it's the effect where lots and lots of people are willing to tell millionaires that the first dumb thought that comes into their brain about any subject is a totally genius thought.
posted by clawsoon at 9:00 AM on August 14 [3 favorites]


Counting my blessings that the software company I work for:

- is a 25-year-old subsidiary of a nondescript public conglomerate, not a startup
- is based in Chicago, not Sunnyvale
- makes a deeply unsexy product for an uncool industry, not a disruptive app

The phenomenon she's describing absolutely exists, but I wonder if it's a feature of a particularly loud and money-drunk subculture, rather than the entire industry.
posted by theodolite at 9:02 AM on August 14 [3 favorites]


ranks every aspect on "how horribly wrong do you think this is going to go?"

Very interesting - how does it go, how do people interact with each other’s predictions, do you revisit them to look for patterns? Is this taking up the work that QA and Support teams were doing once?
posted by clew at 9:03 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


The basic issue is that most tech founders come up through a University system where they are constantly told they are the Best and the Brightest, the Hope for teh Future, they are Makers Making Change, another Gates or Zuck or Ma just needing a bit of polish and a few connections. And at University they're given Very Hard Problems that they're told to solve, and of course they do, because that's how universities teach people; there are Solutions to Problems. And then they graduate!

And so all these fuckheads with astronomically inflated egos are released upon the world which is Full of Problems that for Some Reason (everyone older is just too fucking stupid) haven't yet been Solved, and so they assume there's some inobvious yet simple solution that they're the Only Ones who are Brilliant enough to See and VOILA! Here is The Solution, I am a Genius, Give Me the Money, Give me the Praise I Deserve!

The root of the problem is secondary education Gifted Programs that just slam kids with a little bit of extra analytical capacity with how smart and awesome they are compared to everyone else and then give them ten solid years of brainwashing exactly to that end (meanwhile extracting 100s of K of tuition from their parents).

[ claps hands ] I should know! [ claps hands ] I was there! [ claps hands ]
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:05 AM on August 14 [35 favorites]


This is the first time we're using it, so I don't have any metrics on its efficacy. But I don't like catastrophizing as part of the process.

This company is large and established but merged with a startup and was thus infected with this POV. It also seems particularly strong among front-end engineers.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:06 AM on August 14


Why do I feel this is aimed more-or-less directly @ Musk and his fanbois?
posted by soundguy99 at 9:13 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


seanmpuckett: And at University they're given Very Hard Problems that they're told to solve, and of course they do, because that's how universities teach people; there are Solutions to Problems.

I've noticed that school math has the unfortunate side effect of teaching smart kids that the first idea (or, for a really hard problem, the second idea) that comes into their head is the right answer. And then we march out of school and apply that confidence to the real world.

My half-baked solution to this is to give every smart kid a couple of simple-looking but unsolved problems from combinatorics before they graduate from high school.
posted by clawsoon at 9:14 AM on August 14 [7 favorites]


It also seems particularly strong among front-end engineers.

You should see how strong it is among hind-end engineers.
posted by notoriety public at 9:15 AM on August 14 [9 favorites]


I think, in the age of hypercard, before the world wide web, humanities scholars postulated that there might be effects of an age of hypertext on human cognition.

I remember from English theory class that they theorized about something they called "hummingbird brain" , based on a bird quickly switching from flower to flower.
posted by eustatic at 9:19 AM on August 14 [10 favorites]


@eustatic the kids on Tumblr call it "internet brainrot" and it's very real.
posted by subdee at 9:31 AM on August 14 [5 favorites]


Anything longer than a single image, with maybe 2-3 paragraphs of text, or even a comic that has more than 4 panels, is tagged #longpost so people with custom filters can exclude it from their endless scroll.

And the kids complain a lot that they should have had their access to the internet limited, because now they lose focus when they need to read a paragraph of text.
posted by subdee at 9:35 AM on August 14 [3 favorites]


And all this might be a "a human problem" but it's also an existential problem in a democracy...
posted by subdee at 9:52 AM on August 14


clawsoon: Someone who has Twitter should tell isosteph that she might enjoy Metafilter more than Hacker News.

I like Mefi more than HN but let's not pat ourselves on the back too hard. There's more than enough praising of trillion-dollar companies and ahistorical reasoning about technology and business practices here on the blue.
posted by adrianhon at 9:54 AM on August 14 [11 favorites]


Pessimists sound smart. Optimists make money.
Maybe I’m just “sounding smart,” but I’ve heard enough of this crap inside the industry that this quote alone puts me off ever considering doing business with Stripe. Everybody I’ve ever met who would say something like this is a toxic bullshit artist with some serious skeletons buried under the public veneer of the brand.

Leaving aside the densely-packed, highly-questionable assumptions about what constitutes human virtue, based on this quote I expect the following things are true:

- Collison is in no way responsible for realizing his own “optimism.”

- The people who are responsible feel abused and unheard.

- Realism and general good sense are dismissed in his organization as “pessimism” because they aren’t what their “optimistic” boss wants to hear.

- Collison honestly believes his money makes him smarter than you.

- Along the way he’s lost some of his best people to his own toxic attitude, and in Trumpian style he has retroactively devalued those people and told himself he’s “winning” when they go.

- The tension between actually doing good work and keeping the boss’ ego balloon inflated has led to some internal problems the company would very much rather keep quiet.

- Collison, ever the “optimist,” blames everyone but himself for those problems.

- This is a person I would despise with every fiber of my being no matter how much money was attached to pretending otherwise.
posted by gelfin at 9:55 AM on August 14 [15 favorites]


Maybe I’m just “sounding smart,” but I’ve heard enough of this crap inside the industry that this quote alone puts me off ever considering doing business with Stripe.

Doing business with Stripe has put me off of ever considering doing business with Stripe. Maybe it was different years ago when they started, but now they're very much "my way or the highway", and if their way isn't really what your business needs then too bad.
posted by star gentle uterus at 10:02 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time, people dreamed about a box that held any number and kind of tools that could be used by almost anyone to realize their dreams and create anything they could imagine. This box would revolutionize life and and bring freedom to do and be anyone you could imagine. Forty plus years ago, that box in an early form came to be. People now saw a future where everyone could be a creator. Then someone found a way to hook all these boxes together into a worldwide network. Now all the creators could share their creations with each other. Everyone a publisher, a maker, an artist. And all their creations would be there for others to see and to use. Forty plus years, and now that box is a thousand times more powerful and fits in your pocket. And that utopia of creativity? For the very few it’s a fountain of gold. For most it’s just a place to passively consume the output of the few. There was an earlier magic box that changed the world seventy years ago, this newer magic box just became pretty much that older magic box. Dreams from mediocre minds pumped full of ego stroking bullshit and promised riches aren’t going to lead us anywhere.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:04 AM on August 14 [6 favorites]




"when somebody tells me "2+2=5", I WILL ALWAYS ask them for more details".

Unless it's QAnon.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 10:32 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Patrick Collision

Car crash of a human being.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 10:33 AM on August 14 [3 favorites]


Tech was good for a while, but we have enough now, thanks. Close the valley and fill it in, put some kind of marker over it for future generations, something like “This place is not a place of honor…no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here.
posted by rodlymight at 10:34 AM on August 14 [4 favorites]


Close the valley and fill it in, put some kind of marker over it

Pretty good location for an orchard?
posted by clawsoon at 10:35 AM on August 14 [10 favorites]


a winery, a grow op
posted by philip-random at 10:58 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


The work I do does not scale. One-off solutions and individual consultations are the norm.

So a *really nice* tech company paid me to do a lunch and learn about the charity's work. An amazing crowd: over 100 folks, great questions, lots of understanding from the room about no two clients' needs being the same ... then That Guy at the Back makes more of a comment than a question about how we should feed our metrics into (this week's favourite AI model) and just deliver solutions based on that because they'd be right.

At least 50% of the room turned round and gave him A Look.
(which of course, he didn't notice)
posted by scruss at 11:20 AM on August 14 [17 favorites]


God, yeah. I forget where I learned it, but somebody taught me a good heuristic for spotting tech brain (or engineer's disease, or whatever you want to call it) is the word "just". As in, "why don't you just use Paxos" or "we should just switch to Haskell".

Whenever you hear the word "just", they said, there's a good chance it means "I haven't thought through anything in this sentence that comes afterward".

It's great for finding the soft spots in other peoples' thinking or design proposals. Even better, it's really useful for finding my own carelessness and bad assumptions. Because even though I know about it, I "why don't you just" all the time. Recovery from a culture that teaches us we're Very Special And Smart And Not Like Other People (So Don't Ask These Questions And Go Make Us Richer) is a lifelong process.

This place is not a place of honor

ẅ̸̛͕e̸̙̫͒'̶̼̹͋̄r̸͉̋ẹ̸̡̈́ ̸̹̈͝m̷̛̫a̵̝͛̔k̴̢͂̊ï̴̢͎n̵̨̼̄̓g̵͇̋͝ ̴͘͜ͅt̸̙͐h̸̳̲̑e̸̬͕̅̓ ̴̹̏̆w̷̟̟͗o̶̰͝r̴͈͙̾l̶͎̐ḓ̷͠ ̴̘̮̽͛à̵̝̀ ̵̖͛b̷̨͎͒ë̴̬t̸̫̚t̷͎͋͗e̷̥̎r̵̛̳͗ ̶̰͕͝p̴̜̃ͅl̸̺̰̄̚a̷̙͆c̵̨̀̋e̴̫̤̎
posted by amery at 11:26 AM on August 14 [22 favorites]


And at University they're given Very Hard Problems that they're told to solve, and of course they do, because that's how universities teach people; there are Solutions to Problems.

Maybe everyone really should take more humanities, social sciences and natural sciences courses - because in all of those subjects, there often are no solutions to problems. Or else the solutions are really complex and messy and inadequate. There is no easy solution to the threat of earthquakes, to cleaning up the oceans, or even to many serious maths problems.
posted by jb at 11:32 AM on August 14 [9 favorites]


The humanities have their own hubrises (sp?), and also shouldn’t be made into cleanup for engineering. STEM courses can be taught with appropriate caution and realism. I had a great civ eng course, early in the sequence, with a problem set with the moral “sometimes the best solution is to do nothing”. This is not what beginning engineering students expect to hear! It was very exciting! And we had painstakingly ruled out all the other options!

I was a math student originally and they gave us unsolved problems just because sometimes a neophyte cracks something and also at least one undecidable problem just to see who had been reading ahead.
posted by clew at 11:41 AM on August 14 [8 favorites]


I've found Evgeny Morozov's work on technosolutionism, including his book To Save Everything Click Here, really helpful.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:15 PM on August 14 [6 favorites]


grumpybear69: "This is a direct result of startup culture, which is itself a form of youth worship: the only things worth building / doing are " yet another javascript library to make our web page building easier.
posted by symbioid at 12:21 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


"why don't you just..."

The tricky thing here is that some ways of doing things are better (easier, simpler, faster, etc) than others, and this is very much true of technology.

One thing I would imagine leads to tech brain is the fact that programming makes you feel like a real life wizard sometimes. If you're pretty computer literate, or very computer literate, watching a less computer-literate person use a computer feels like watching somebody write a book using 15 words with a stick in the dirt. This is because you've mastered a really powerful tool. On top of that, people will pay you lots of money to use that tool. It's pretty understandable (note: not excusable) this would lead to arrogance and, more in line with the linked article, a belief that your mastery of one domain carries over to other domains where the people who have mastered them make less money.

Also in response to the linked article, which I read as asking the question of why tech people don't see non-tech problems in all their glorious complexity: to some degree people I think gravitate toward tech because it is a built environment where the complexity boils down to something simple and understandable. "Real life" things like social issues aren't like that, usually, but since you know tech you think everything works like that. (I guess this is just engineer's disease?)
posted by ropeladder at 12:31 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


> ropeladder: ""Real life" things like social issues aren't like that, usually, but since you know tech you think everything works like that. (I guess this is just engineer's disease?)"

I wish I could find it now just to confirm my memory, but I could have sworn that I once saw (probably on Twitter) someone proposing to solve the Bay Area's high housing price problems with... cheaper 3D-printed bricks. As if the cost of building materials was the main reason why it's so expensive there.
posted by mhum at 12:42 PM on August 14 [7 favorites]


I forget where I learned it, but somebody taught me a good heuristic for spotting tech brain (or engineer's disease, or whatever you want to call it) is the word "just". As in, "why don't you just use Paxos" or "we should just switch to Haskell".

Yeah, at a previous employer, we figured out that “just” was one of the most dangerous words in the language, because the next thing you’re about to say is almost definitely wrong.

A related observation is that everybody thinks everybody else’s job is easy, and nobody wants to pay for anything.

See also: “It’s not that hard, Scott. Tell him, Wash.”
“It’s incredibly hard.”

posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:07 PM on August 14 [5 favorites]


At one of my old jobs, whenever someone would try to solve a complex problem by injecting the word "just" one of my coworkers liked to say "I look forward to your implementation" (because the just was usually applied to someone else, i.e. "why don't you just...")
posted by RustyBrooks at 1:09 PM on August 14 [12 favorites]


people I think gravitate toward tech because it is a built environment where the complexity boils down to something simple and understandable

Even that is overstated, though. I have had a techie far cooler than me completely fail to believe anything I was saying about undecidability, and i think in the same conversation assume that any big-oh problem would be solved in a product lifetime by cheaper faster processing.
posted by clew at 1:46 PM on August 14


"Just" is dangerous in a slightly different context too. If you find yourself saying "If people would just...", know that people will not just. People never just. You're probably right, but do you want to be right or have results?
posted by echo target at 1:48 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


The mere is just, the equitable is just;
The first sows scorn, the latter garners trust.
posted by clew at 1:52 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


Though, as a physics PhD, I'd like to say that "why don't you just... [X]" can translate to "please tell me of the horrifying complexity of your problem, because I know I have to make all sort of terrible simplifying assumptions to make my problems even remotely tractable using math that scares and intimidates people and I'm still amazed and baffled, given actually not true most of those assumptions are, that it manages to predict anything at all accurately and I want to hear how it is for you."
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:08 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


The irony in all this is that when the hard problems do get solved, people who don't have a fucking clue about anything fall over themselves to declare that "um actually, the problem was super easy, you should just.." For a very recent example, see all the people commenting in the Epic/Google/Apple post about how Google/Apple should provide their apps store services for free, or at a very low cost.

For a non-tech example that comes up here a lot, pay attention to all the social policy "solutions" that conveniently leave out all the hard parts. You know, the type of thing that's like "we just need to outlaw private home ownership", or "make it legal to have a household net worth above $1M" that fails to take into account the social unrest that'd lead to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of deaths in the US alone.

So either you solve the hard problem and just spend an inordinate amount of effort to tell all the galaxy brained naysayers to STFU, or you do what this article is talking about and you just paper over the hard parts of you problems and just solve the easy stuff. I'm more a "hard problem" guy myself, but I do spend more time than I'd like on the STFU part.
posted by sideshow at 2:13 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


[If you want to have a discussion in another thread, have it in that thread -- thanks!]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 2:48 PM on August 14


This feels generational:
it doesn’t seem right that so many of my friends in this industry, who legitimately love computers and building and designing new things on them, are always talking about all the things we’ll do when we finally get to leave.
Being surprised when you realize that you'd rather do something other than your job.
posted by clawsoon at 3:17 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


Just ran into one of these who insisted that to make elections 100% secure and honest, we could issue all voters a strongly-encrypted lifetime hardware credential at birth.
posted by Sauce Trough at 8:22 PM on August 14


Just ran into one of these who insisted that to make elections 100% secure and honest, we could issue all voters a strongly-encrypted lifetime hardware credential at birth.

Or one could register with the election agency with a one-time password process and later get on the website and write the token on their mail-in ballot to be read by machines at the central office. It means that a physical ballot being sent in the mail has a code on it that was registered with a state ID and password at an election station at some prior point, then is cleared for tally when the envelope is opened. The two main issues are double voting and keeping the tally separate from the name itself. If the voter arrived in-person to an election booth then an official could also ask for a token (used only once), or vet the person the old fashioned way. For privacy on mail-in ballots, two separate pages could used in the same envelope mailed out and back in. In the end, a computer rejects when someone has already voted and if there is a problem with that, the late in-person voter would be standing in front of election officials alerting them to prior mail fraud and file a provisional ballot.
posted by Brian B. at 8:57 PM on August 14


the kids on Tumblr call it "internet brainrot" and it's very real.

I feel like I have that sometimes because I struggle to read books and long articles, but then I'll go devour a 500,000+ word fanfic without stopping to sleep so who even knows what is happening with my attention span.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:53 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Heinz-Otto Peitgen's interaction with Der Spiegel (end of page, immediately after the section on Peter H. Richter), and, well, arXiv:nlin seem sadly timeless here.
posted by oonh at 5:30 AM on August 15


Brian B.: The two main issues are double voting and keeping the tally separate from the name itself.

I'd think that the main issue would be allowing people who don't have an Internet connection to vote by mail. I have at least one older relative in that position - no Internet, no desire to get it, in lockdown for the past few months at a senior's lodge.
posted by clawsoon at 5:41 AM on August 15


Is the reductionist grammar and (lack of) capitalization supposed to be ironic?
posted by hrpomrx at 6:15 AM on August 15


The canonical example is Objectivism, a la Ayn Rand.

For those who may not be familiar, Objectivism is a philosophical school which has established definitively that if one starts from a clear, well-defined set of first principles, and if one builds slowly and carefully on those principles, reasoning your thoughts out step by step, being as careful as you can, showing your work, checking and cross-checking your arguments along the way—with heroic amounts of time and effort one can eventually create a set of iron-clad justifications for conclusions that are manifestly absurd.

Where you ended up is stupid, but the argument for your conclusions is so strong that you simply can't be wrong.

This kind of trap is easy to fall into if you haven't yet seen some examples of tightly-reasoned arguments that are nevertheless producing results that don't match reality. Intelligent people who are good at making arguments but don't have a breadth of experience with different people and situations can be particularly susceptible.
posted by springo at 7:49 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


The two main issues are double voting and keeping the tally separate from the name itself.

I'd think that the main issue would be allowing people who don't have an Internet connection to vote by mail. I have at least one older relative in that position - no Internet, no desire to get it, in lockdown for the past few months at a senior's lodge.


Oregon has had vote by mail since the 90's and it works fine. You can mail the ballot or you can drop it off at a collection site. This does not require anything fancy and has a physical trail. We do not need to electronify our elections system anymore than is minimally necessary. The voter fraud that I am worried about is the suppression of votes. Much more than tokens and keys and passwords we need to have a federal voting holiday and a renewal of the Voting Rights Act.
posted by Pembquist at 8:35 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


[If people want to dig in more on details of how to implement mail voting, better to make a dedicated post around that; this is getting pretty far afield for this thread.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:39 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


Or one could register with the election agency with a one-time password...

This is an excellent example of exactly the kind of behavior the linked article is critiquing, and we get to see the effects in real time.

The proposal itself is bad because it doesn't even get the problem right, and our choices are:
  1. Let it stand unaddressed, which can mislead people who don't realize why it's bad; or
  2. Explain why it's bad, which takes ten times as much effort as putting it up in the first place, probably makes the person proposing it dig in and get defensive, and generally derails whatever the original conversation was about.
Thankfully this is a moderated conversation so we can stop the derail. In unmoderated coversations, this behavior is especially destructive because it tends to displace useful disussion in favor of endless debate over "why don't you just" dross.

Is the reductionist grammar and (lack of) capitalization supposed to be ironic?

I can't tell if this is an honest question or an attempt to find a rationalization for rejecting the article. If it's an honest question, Gretchen McCulloch has done some really useful work on internet language use and development.
posted by amery at 9:05 AM on August 15 [5 favorites]


Honest question, amery; the article spoke to me so definitely not rejecting it.
posted by hrpomrx at 9:10 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Cool, good to know! I've seen a lot of "let me reject what people online (especially women) have to say because they didn't hit the shift key as much as I want", and I'm spiky about it. Especially since online language use is super inventive and interesting!
posted by amery at 9:22 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


Is the reductionist grammar and (lack of) capitalization supposed to be ironic?

Reading her other tweets, I got the impression that she was a bit embarrassed about writing something sincere and long-form, a bit shy about stepping into a new way of expressing herself beyond snarky tweets. I wonder if some of that embarrassment was expressed via lack of capitalization.

EDIT: I am wrong. Most of her tweets don't have capitalization.
posted by clawsoon at 9:37 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


I like the "we're solving problems nobody has ever solved before*" from this thread.
single-link-tweets
*: Nope, there's nothing new under the sun.
posted by k3ninho at 1:21 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


“Losers, like autodidacts, always know much more than winners. If you want to win, you need to know just one thing and not waste your time on anything else: the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers. The more a person knows, the more things have gone wrong.”

― Umberto Eco

Too many tech-brains seem to be winners in the sense that Eco means. They have focused on getting VC's to fund their hare-brained schemes and poorly-thought out disruptive business models. They focus on the culture that gets them money and then the equivalent of engineer's disease triggers and we get what have now; Kalanick, Collison, Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg, et al. Sometimes the the thing worked out (Bezos and Zuckerberg), consequences on the rest of the world be damned, or the thing is fundamentally flawed (Kalanick) but they still got their payday and that makes them winner in their books.

Maybe we should introduce mandatory failure into every curriculum? Build a perpetual motion machine, solve the issues of social trust across different self-identifying groups, cure the common cold, fix stupid, etc.... Everyone gets assigned one mandatory insoluble or undecidable project a term. They are not told it is impossible. And they get a pass/fail grade that count towards their grade. Let the failure be real. And any successes tempered by other failures.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 3:51 PM on August 15 [6 favorites]


Perhaps one of the largest-scale, recent examples of tech brain in action (imho) was the decision by the International Baccalaureate organization as well as Ofqual in the UK to infer the final grades of students (via undisclosed algorithms, of course) because they were unable to sit their final exams due to Covid. A lot of the news articles are about what might have gone wrong in the algorithms, what kind of appeals process there should be, and what kind of correction process should happen now to fix this mess they got themselves into. However, I think the idea of inferring final grades like this was fundamentally broken from the start. I mean, sure, go ahead and apply ML to predict students' test scores; that's a fun little exercise. Actually using those predictions as the students' final grade which will then determine these students' academic career? That seems like a wildly reckless idea.
posted by mhum at 7:17 PM on August 17 [1 favorite]


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